‘I’ve never shown my work in this way before’: Mac Collins on his prizewinning furniture

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According to the London Design Museum, design is “a way to understand the world and how it can be changed.” Everything from a cell phone in your pocket to a chair in the living room tells something about modern society.

Last year, the museum presented its ideas through exhibits of 20th-century innovators such as Charlotte Perriand and Margaret Calvert. The designer’s work illuminates a part of people’s lives.

But institutions don’t just look back on what has already happened. We also aim to celebrate the up-and-coming talents of the next generation.

The museum’s new annual Ralph Salzmann Award honors the delegation with a £ 5,000 Versary and the opportunity to showcase their work at the museum. Created with the support of the Salzmann family, we recognize the legacy of Ralph Salzmann, the late co-founder of Designtex, who died in 2020. Known for its extensive catalog of textiles and Applied Materials, Designtex is a well-known name for product and interior designers. In the world.

Five candidates were selected by an established panel of experts and the first award was given to Mack Collins, a furniture and product designer who spends time between Newcastle, Nottingham and London. Collins was the first to shock with the 2018 Iklwa Lounge Chair. This is a large throne-like chair originally made of ash wood and dyed in deep blue.

Invented when Collins was still a student at Northumbria University and named after a type of short spear of the Zulu tribe, the Ikulwa chair is inspired by the aesthetics of Afrofuturism and the history of the designer’s own family. increase. The blue used for the first Ikulwa chair was the same color that Collins’ grandfather wore when he emigrated from Jamaica to England in the 1950s. The chair was a way for Collins to explore his legacy, the African diaspora, and how his own family came to England.

The blue used for the first Ikulwa chair was the same color that Collins’ grandfather wore when he emigrated from Jamaica to England in the 1950s.

It was the clear implementation of the idea of ​​Collins’ big story that caught the attention of the award judges, including the museum’s directorate and outside experts. “I think what’s interesting about Mack’s work is not only how to interpret the cultural forms of Africa, but also how to refer to the history of the African diaspora in storytelling,” said Justin Mc, Chief Curator of the Design Museum. Gark says. “It gives furniture a political effect that is rarely seen.”

This award means that Collins will be exhibiting his work at the Design Museum from February 2nd to April 2nd. “I’ve never exhibited a work like this,” he says. “I’ll probably talk a bit in terms of how I come to a conclusion.”

Collins has been busy since graduating in 2018. His Iklwa chair was produced in 2020 by British furniture maker Benchmark. The following year, he was awarded the Emerging Design Medal and El Decoration’s Young Design Talent of the Year at the London Design Festival. ..

With these opportunities, some difficult decisions were made about the direction of his career. “I was fortunate to be able to take different paths,” says Collins. “Then the question arises of how best to spend time. There was certainly an opportunity for me to make a deliberate change.”

Finnish furniture brand Vaarnii's pine bowl

Finnish furniture brand Vaarnii’s pine bowl © Jussi Puikkonen

Ideas are central to Collins practice. For a chair, bowl, or other piece to be successful, he needs to be physically experienced and convey his ideas. In short, the chair may have a big concept, but it should still be usable as a chair. His talent lies in how to find this balance in one everyday object.

Collins was nominated for the Ralph Salzmann Award by Industrial Alpha City, a London design studio founded by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin. “Young designers naturally ask a lot of questions,” says Hecht. “But only talent can answer them differently. It’s both of these that the Mac seems to be very good at.”

Mac results are “not always easy to the eye,” Hecht says. “But that’s exactly what we should expect. It makes you stop a little and try to understand his language. That’s why we finally nominated him — this language. I hope that will develop further. “

For Collins, the next step is the exploration phase, where he discovers how his intentions are carried out. “I think I have a lot to say,” he says. “And I’m still in the process of defining the best way to convey these ideas.”

He believes the award will allow him to work without restrictions. “It’s financial support that gives me the freedom to push my work in a potentially more speculative or holistic direction, rather than in the direction of having to give numbers to get a financial reward. Feel a little free. Make the most of it. “

Collins is currently working in a Newcastle studio that he shares with his college friend, designer Joe Fran. Collins teaches at Northumbria University and especially likes to give her the opportunity to talk to students who think differently.

According to him, the students are now in a classroom that is already aware of what they find interesting. Social media, in particular, provides people with early access to ideas and knowledge. Collins finds it exciting. Similarly, he believes the boundaries between creative media are thinning and is keen to collaborate with like-minded people in other disciplines.

Jupiter's lounge chairs and side tables designed for residence in Norfolk's Holkham Hall

Jupiter’s lounge chairs and side tables designed for residence in Norfolk’s Holkham Hall

According to him, working away from London has advantages. It is usually considered a place to work in the creative field. “”[I have] A little more space for free thinking and action. Things are a little slow and feel a little calm. I resist pulling homes in London, but I still visit them regularly. But I think it’s a privilege not to be in London all the time. “

His next project will continue to work in northern England, being asked to do a new job for the Harewood House, a country estate in West Yorkshire built by Edwin Lascelles. The owner of a wealthy plantation, Russells, built his fortune from the sugar and slave trade in the Caribbean. This estate, like many likes, has recently faced a problematic history, investigating the relationship between the home and its source of wealth. ..

The art collection includes works by El Greco, Titian and Giovanni Bellini, as well as furniture produced by Thomas Chippendale, the largest commissioner of his career to provide a home. According to the Lascelles Slavery Archive at the University of York, the family sold their last plantation in the Caribbean in 1975.

Collins has created an installation that he describes as the “antithesis against thin and intricately carved shapes” of the Chippendales of the house. “It’s visually heavy, intentional and uncompromising — with straight lines and unobtrusive silhouettes.”

Concur chair

Conversations about colonialism and the history of British art and design are difficult to navigate. Collins is interested in taking a broader view, noting that culture has some course modifications that should be made more commonly. “Britain’s material culture is becoming a physical representation of the breadth of Britain’s socio-cultural structure,” he says. “Historically, I don’t think this was the case, but I think it’s becoming more of a reflection of the prosperous culture here.”

There’s more to tell, and design has a big role to play, as the works of the Collins generation show. Personal stories have long been explored by British artists and designers associated with the Caribbean and African diaspora, but are treated with the same urgency by national cultural institutions, from design museums to country estates. It’s only recently. It is scattered in the landscape.

Spaces like the Harewood House, pointed out by Collins, have long been regarded as representing only one type of British identity. “But there are so many different cultures and identities that all thrive in this society,” he says. “I want to open it through a positive story, not a negative angle or perspective.”

Other Ralph Salzman Candidates

Nominated for Alexandra Full Stofer, Anabu Jain, Super Flux

Fruhstorfer has worked in a variety of disciplines and has created projects that explore relationships with the home, the world of work and the natural world. Her textile and fiber projects, focusing on innovative circular processes and materials that affect the earth, were presented at the Porto Design Biennale and the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Fullstorfer studied industrial design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.


Francisco Norris nominated for Google AI’s Matt Jones

Originally from Buenos Aires, Norris co-founded the Zero Emission Livestock Project, Zelp, in 2017 while studying information experience design at the Royal University of the Arts. At Zelp, scientists, engineers and product designers are working together to develop new ways to neutralize methane emitted by the livestock industry.


Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage nominated for Doshi Levien

The only duo on the list, French designers Pinaffo and Pluvinage, have been working on a wide range of interdisciplinary projects connected by curiosity, color and sense of movement since 2015.

Interactivity is the true focus of the pair, whether it’s a lively paper toy with the addition of sand or a dynamic dance “blueprint” installation commissioned by Hermès in 2020.


Sky Lucy Young nominated for Michael Anastasia Death

Young, a textile designer who graduated from the Royal College of Art with a master’s degree in mixed media textiles in 2019, is exploring fabric innovation using both analog and digital processes. Currently working as a design coordinator at the Danish textile company Kvadrat, he balances colors, materials and goals in the design process.

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